Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee

Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee

‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Broken Branches is the first book from a new start-up publisher in the UK, Hideaway Fall. As an aside from the book, I have to say that the publisher have done a fantastic job of getting their name out there. Not only did they approach reviewers like myself to review the book, but they also sent out a series of assorted goodies that loosely tie in to their name and logo. A brilliant effort on their part there!
15780940_1383406025003743_6187096019880036073_nNow, on to the book – Broken Branches. Ian Perkins is sat watching his marriage crumble around him, as his once-vibrant wife withdraws and becomes more and more distant. She sleeps in a spare room, behind lock and key, and barely says a single word to Ian if and when their paths cross.

Having grown up with the story of the family curse leading to an early grave for members of the Perkins family, Ian is certain the curse is to blame for his the strange behaviour in his wife. Having all-but given up on trying to talk to Rachel, Ian absorbs himself in researching the family history between the bright moments in his day when his young son Harry is around.

Strange things begin to occur around the house, adding to Ian’s certainty in the existence of said curse. His obsession becomes all consuming and taking over every waking moment, and the sleeping ones too. A showdown conversation with Rachel forces Ian to confront a tragedy in their recent past and come to terms with their issues.

Broken Branches is a little different to the usual psychological thriller I am used to. A history of tragedies build to a crescendo by the end of the book that lend a dark feel to the story. The unravelling of the family history, and the final revelation make for a refreshing new look on psychological thrillers.

My rating
goodread

In Plain Sight by M.A. Comley

In Plain Sight by M.A. Comley

No one is safe… not even the police.

DI Hero Nelson is used to violent crime but this one is personal. When he’s called to a crime scene he discovers the victims are two police officers one of whom is a good friend.

Determined to track down the killer, he’s dealt another blow as the body count continues to rise. To catch the killer before he strikes again, Hero calls upon the public for help. But when the criminal ups the ante by taking hostages, he soon regrets his actions.

Can Hero and the police catch the murderer before more innocent victims are hurt?

Hero must apprehend a killer who is hiding in plain sight before the time runs out.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

Today I have the pleasure of taking part in the blog tour for M.A. Comley’s fantastic thriller, In Plain Sight. This is the latest book in a bit of a run of thrillers for me at the moment. Not that this is a bad thing, but it does mean I am going to compare one book to the others the more of them from this genre I read. So how does this book stack up in the grand scheme?
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The answer is pretty well. Set in Greater Manchester, In Plain Sight portrays a dark, almost mysterious villain and the aptly-named good guy – DI Hero Nelson. M.A. Comley builds an entertaining battle between good versus evil; pitting the significant resources of a major police force against a seemingly unpredictable criminal willing to rob, torture and murder civilians and police officers alike.

With each new robbery-murder any notion of pinning down a motive becomes more difficult. The crimes become more brutal, more sinister and less logical. The killer evolves, from simple robbery-murder, to a robbery-murder with a kidnapping, then on to a full blown kidnapping. The erratic nature of the crimes causes concern for the police, who become increasingly concerned by the lack of evidence leading to a suspect.

I enjoyed the way the story is told from both sides. A run of chapters follows DI Nelson and the Greater Manchester police as they chase shadows, while the story of the killer is told in so far as his reactions to the police, his planning and actions during the crimes he commits.

The sense of frustration felt by the police is well-developed, as is the sense of excitement experienced by the killer. In Plain Sight moves with good pace from incident to incident, crime scene to crime scene right the way through to the climax of the story. My only slight complaint is a lack of backstory for the killer: though his motive is defined by the end, not enough was made of it in my opinion. Knowing this is one part of a series of books featuring DI Hero Nelson, I cannot wait to try the other books!

My score
4

Friday Face-Off – 17th March 2017

Friday Face-Off – 17th March 2017

Friday Face-Off is an idea originally thought up by Books By Proxy which I stole from the fantastic The Tattooed Book Geek. The idea originally was to compare UK and US covers based on an assigned theme each week and choose the winning cover. I will be twisting it slightly: not specifically US and UK covers, just different editions.

This week’s theme is a cover featuring playing cards: “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs are too sweet and wild”.

I had a book in mind this week from one of my favourite authors, Stephen King – The Dark Half.

Cover A:

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Cover B:

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Cover C:

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Cover D:

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Cover E:

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Cover F:

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Cover G:

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Cover H:

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Cover I:

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Cover J:

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Cover K:

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Cover L:

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Cover M:

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And the winner is… cover H!

Covers D and E are joint second place this week with D being the cover I own, and E being a style of Stephen King book cover that I really like. Normally these two would be my winners, but this week H shades them both. It has atmosphere, a really dark feeling to it whilst still being simple.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my winner, or does one of the others work better for you? Let me know in the comments!

Next week I will be looking for a cover featuring a street lamp: “He stood under the street lamp, sleet settling in his hair, hands fisted at his side”.

Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

On a research mission in one of the most remote regions of the world, former Navy SEAL Eric Slade and Dr. Anna Fayne are caught in a mysterious storm. Catapulted through a rift in space-time, they are marooned on a lost world.

Struggling to survive and desperate to find a way home, they must confront the dangers of this savage land—a dark wizard and his army of undead—a warrior queen and her horde of fierce Neanderthals that stands against him—and a legendary treasure with the power to open the gateway between worlds, or to destroy them all: the Eye of the Storm.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Eye of the Storm is a sci-fi fantasy novel that spans times and alternate universes. A scientific research team lead by an ex-Navy SEAL and current TV personality. As their expedition heads out, they encounter what appear to be pterosaurs – long extinct flying dinosaurs. In their helicopters the team gives chase, flying head on into a storm. This storm acts as a portal transporting them into an alternate time and universe, populated by neanderthal tribes.
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When I was first contacted about Eye of the Storm, I was really attracted to it, a book billed as a mix of science fiction and fantasy. These are two of my favourite genre of books so I went in with high hopes. And things looked really good for this book. The sudden arrival in a prehistoric version of the world set things off in the right direction. Factions of neanderthal people roam the plains, alongside ancient winged beasts and mammoths. As with all fantastic fantasy tales, there is a counterbalancing force of evil, too.

A dark wizard, laying in wait, seemingly hell-bent on taking power for himself makes for a pretty good nemesis. Cue some double crossing during times of upheaval such as the death of the king and the ascension of the new queen, and the story looks set. When a seemingly-dead member of the scientific research party turns up at the side of wizard during battle, the line between good and evil becomes blurred. Ultimately both sides need to come together in a common aim against a new evil.

But it also has its issues. The new evil didn’t seem to carry much weight for me. The dark wizard Tarquin had been developed and built throughout the course of the story, giving a mystical and almost fanatical aura to him. A further revelation about Tarquin, which I won’t reveal in its entirety, leads to the author referring to him as a techno-wizard. This dampened my view Tarquin somewhat, made all the more aggravating with the insistence of the author to refer to Tarquin in the same way constantly from the point of revelation onwards. It almost sought to diminish the power and menace this key character held, making it hard for me to stay fully engaged and invested in the story.

These draw backs don’t fully undo the story here, but they do leave a slight bad taste for me. Overall the concept is fantastic, and a setting in the time of the neanderthals is really interesting making for an entertaining read.

My score
3

Guest Post – J.M. Richardson

Guest Post – J.M. Richardson

So just a few short days after sharing my very first Guest Post from the fantastic A.K. Alliss, I have the great pleasure of bringing you my second post. Today, I would like to welcome back an author of four books, someone who is an old friend here at Books and Beyond having had two of his brilliant books reviewed here and having kindly sat down with me for an interview as well. I present to you author of The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key – J.M. Richardson. Today, he presents us with a post on writing. Or more specifically writing a sequel soon after the launch of the prequel, and the work that goes in to a book whose main location is not one familiar to the author.

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So I’m writing a new book. I almost forgot to. My newest novel, The Barataria Key, was released on December 21st, and as you might imagine, I was elated. It was my fourth full novel, and the second in its own series. That feeling never gets old—the excitement over a new release and the anticipation of how it will be received. Still, I hunger every day for new feedback, reviews, and the chance to talk about my stories with readers. Sometimes, however, you get to a point where you’re so caught up in promotion, social media, and in-person events that you have little time to actually write. At some point in the last couple of months, I realised that I’m going to need another instalment in this series. I forgot. That was a terrible feeling because I knew full well that this book was going to take at least a year to write, and once that manuscript is delivered to my publisher, so many other things have to happen. I have to wait for the contract, and then edits begin. That takes quite some time because there are other books in line for their own edits. This takes months. Then we get into the fine tuning. They’re editing, I’m editing, we’re approving each other’s changes, and we haven’t even begun to talk about cover art, cover reveals, proofing, galleys, and typesetting. Imagine my anxiety to realise that from that moment, a new James Beauregard novel would not make it to readers for at least a year and a half. So I set to writing.

I remember when I had only one book. It was easy to say, “Hey, read my book”. It was a fresh story. A reader didn’t need to know anything prior to it. There were new settings and characters, fresh from my imagination. But when I wrote the next book, a frightening thought occurred to me. How do I get people to read the second book if they didn’t read the first? That thought was terrifying. It seemed like my market had just shrunk from literally everyone (potentially) to the relative handful that had read the first story. So I had to look to other storytellers on how to make this work.

It’s pointless to ignore how much influence I take from Indiana Jones. Sometimes I hate to admit it. I know it’s not literature. I wish I could say I was molded in the pages of Hemingway or Tolstoy; something classy. But I loved Indy as a kid. It was fun, and it sparked my imagination. I found myself in another time and in another place. Even when I wasn’t watching, I obsessed about ancient civilizations and faraway lands. That’s when I started writing stories of my own. I always say that reading (and writing for me) allows you to travel for the price of a book. One thing the Indy movies taught me was that you could watch any one by itself and still have fun. You could start with the second or third, and go back to the first. It didn’t matter. It was perfectly clear that there was a common back story, and it surfaced in every new movie. The viewer is reminded of it in common, but subtle ways, and you still get to enjoy the new adventure. They were all loosely connected along the line; stand-alone but part of a chronological story line. That’s what I did with The Barataria Key as a continuance of the story from the original book, The Apocalypse Mechanism.

Each book can stand alone even as I hint at situations from the previous book. There is an underlying narrative that continues with some mainstay characters and background story. An example would be the loss of James Beauregard’s family. It was quite central to his character development in the first book, and so it had to be present in the second. It’s part of who he is. But if you didn’t read the first book, I had to drop that into the story through dialogue, both internal and external. It works, and if you read the first one after, then great. But it doesn’t take away from your experience to read them out of order.

I would say that to some degree, one of those commonalities that give each stand-alone book some voltage from release to release is setting. The city of New Orleans, Beauregard’s home, is a character in itself. The city bursts with trumpeting jazz riffs on some molasses-slow French Quarter street and fragrances of a gumbo roux someone is nurturing around the corner. But just as New Orleans is present in each book, James finds himself exploring the mysteries and forbidding shadows of human history. From ancient cults in The Apocalypse Mechanism to secret societies and Mayan mystique in The Barataria Key, he ends up in locales that lend a different set of flavours to the story.

I have always been a bit of an Anglophile. As a kid interested in history and anthropology, medieval England fascinated me, followed later by other eras of interest. I swoon over thoughts of how people lived in distant times and places. I obsess. I’m the type of person that could spend all day in a single museum or historic town just marveling over artifacts and buildings, trying to imagine life for those people way back then. I don’t know why England interested me so. Maybe it was the common language, despite the sprawling distance. Maybe it’s in my DNA. The ancestors of my namesake can be traced to early fifteenth century Hertfordshire, in the tiny town of Westmill. Nevertheless, I could not wait to visit, and last year I did for the first time.

My time in London was one of the greatest travelling experiences of my life. I made sure to experience all that I could, from visits to the British Museum to enjoying pies and pints at some of the most colourful pubs in the city. I hit the big attractions in Westminster and the Tower. But I was sure to duck into the alleys, and hunt down nearly forgotten sections of the old city wall. I visited the location of William Wallace’s execution. I viewed the historic books and documents in the British Library. I have officially fallen in love with the city. As I sat to begin the next chapter in James Beauregard’s adventures, I needed him to be far from New Orleans, as the last book hit far too close to home. What better place to carry on his story than in London?

It helps me to set a book in a place that I’ve visited. I’m from the New Orleans area, I’ve been to Galveston, Texas many times, and I’ve seen the Mayan World, so these were natural places for me to set The Barataria Key. I do write about places I’ve never visited, but that’s where research comes in. I want the historical references and locations to be factual, at least in foundation. I always imagine that I’ll look like a fool if I get it wrong. There will always be that person who pulls up Google while reading my books, and I want to be prepared for that. But I also research because I personally want to know. I want to know as much as I possibly can about anything and everything that piques my interest. For years, I dreamed of visiting London. I read full histories of the city, how it’s laid out, how it grew, and who influenced it. I wanted to know the neighbourhoods, especially as I was about to travel there. I wanted to know the Bayswater area in which I would stay. I studied the Underground maps and how to get around. I sought out maps and researched little-known churches and museums. I wanted to drink where Dickens did. I wanted to see an altar where Richard II prayed and a chamber once occupied by Edward I. I walked the streets. I conversed with the people. I took in the culture.

This next book will be a testament to my love affair with London, its history, and its people. James will not have as leisurely of a time there as I did. I only hope that I can do it justice. Either way, at the end, I’ll raise a glass and toast this fine city. I’ll clink a pint glass with Beauregard and enjoy the renewed adventure inspired by yet another amazing city. Cheers.

Guest Post – A.K. Alliss

Guest Post – A.K. Alliss

In a new feature to my blog, I am pleased to welcome A.K. Alliss, author of Frame, to Books and Beyond Reviews as my first ever guest post. I had the pleasure of reading Frame, which I reviewed here. In this post, he discusses the period of time running up to the launch of a new book. So without further ado, welcome A.K. Alliss!

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Releasing a book traditionally, in a lot of ways, is a game. It’s a game of patience, of nail-biting worry and sleepless nights. To the new author, the world and characters that they have created are everything, but to everyone else, they are undiscovered, unknown and largely, unimportant. While that might sound pessimistic, the author will reach a point where they’ll have to posses a fairly pragmatic attitude when considering expectations of success.

Transitioning from an independent to traditionally published author is an exciting, yet daunting and lengthy process. It’s quite humbling to be confronted with the staggering amount of effort that actually goes into a title’s release when done the old fashioned way. Instead of relying on your own humble experiences to guide you, you are now being led by the practiced eye of those that have been there and done that, perhaps long before you had ever considered writing a book.

I was fortunate in the fact that I had a very collaborative publisher in Atlas Productions for my first published novel, Frame.  Today’s authors have to be marketing savvy, this was something that I thought I knew about only to receive schooling to the contrary. Genre, demographics and the most effective conduits to promote your work are all things that have to be considered. This is where the value of having a publisher was, I found, invaluable. It is no longer enough for an author to rely on the vagaries of social media to promote their work successfully. That avenue, while sometimes beneficial, does not present a lot of follow through traffic to your product.

That’s right. I said product. Because, while your lovingly crafted story containing plot A and protagonist B might mean the world to you, this is an age of consumerism and your work has now become a part of that. You have to step away from your passion and your creativity and start thinking about the best way to reach customers. The love and celebration of your literary brilliance can come later, but right now, you have to get people fired up about what you’ve written without sounding as if you are.

Ever tried to write a blurb? It’s actually harder than writing the book to be honest. Condensing a solid plot into a paragraph will have you breaking into a cold sweat when you’re used to having no limit to word count. The first couple of attempts ended in what resembled an essay, but slowly and surely (with guidance from my publisher) I was able to do it. Reviewing the blurb, you wonder if you have missed something crucial that will relay what the story is about, but you have to let that go. Hopefully, that one short description of your months of work will have to suffice.

Finally, if you haven’t stressed yourself to an early grave by the time it happens, you hit release day and this is where you really have to brace yourself. Yes, it’s a time filled with a mixture of pride and cautious optimism, of relief that you have made it there. But. Once you’ve had a moment to congratulate yourself, don’t even think about resting on those laurels. Get up soldier, there is still work to be done. If you want your novel, your baby, your love to go the distance you have to keep marching beside it, supporting it in any new and creative ways that you can conjure.

The finish line is not distinct. In my opinion, there is no finish line. For me, release day marked another part of a journey that has no end. I can’t ever forget about my novels. I can’t ever release the memory of everything that I’ve accomplished by creating and displaying my dreams. Even when I start writing something new, I still have to hold onto the feelings surrounding what it meant to write what has gone before. I feel that every part of anything that you have ever written should remain important forever. To you, but more importantly, to your readers. Because that’s where the real value of a book lies.

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A dark, frenetic psychological thriller, The Breakdown is an emotional roller coaster. B.A. Paris won critical acclaim from her best selling book Behind Close Doors, and returns with this thriller set in the British countryside. Cass leads a normal life as a teacher, living with her husband Matthew. She cares deeply for her friends and her family. She has given much of her time to care for her late-mother who was struck down with early onset dementia. Before the murder that turns everything upside down, life was on the up. Cass returned to work after the loss of her mother, and married Matthew. But she always worried about the risk of early onset dementia striking her down before her time.
thebreakdown In the run up to the murder, Cass had been forgetting things. Nothing of consequence, nothing worse than the sort of things any of us might forget on a day to day basis. But as the darkness brought on by the murder threatens to envelope her, she begins to forget more and more, each forgotten item or act become slowly more ominous. She begins to worry that dementia is making its presence known. But as events progress, not everything is quite what it seems.

Nothing is obvious as the tension mounts throughout the book, and that’s what makes it such a fantastic read. The fear and confusion worsen as Cass spirals into an ever deepening sense of paranoia and terror at the prospect of dementia while still in her thirties. So sure that her forgetfulness is entirely down to the condition, she cannot begin to conceive of any other possible outcomes. Something is amiss, but the book is so well written that for the majority of the story neither Cass nor the reader can explain the goings on with any real certainty.

B.A. Paris keeps the tension bubbling just beneath the surface the whole way through the story. Twists and turns abound, without feeling silly or over board. All too often the outcome in a whodunnit style story can be seen very early on. I found that The Breakdown kept you guessing along with Cass until she solves the mystery surrounding her deteriorating memory and the murder of an innocent young woman.

My score
4.5